“Scripture interprets Scripture” in Cassiodorus (c. 490-585 AD)

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  1. SebastianClinciuJJ

    SebastianClinciuJJ Puritan Board Freshman

    In the preface of his book De Institutione Divinarum Litterarum, dedicated for improving the status of education that took place in monasteries (Scholae monasticae), Cassiodorus writes an intersting observation:

    English text (Personal translation): “[W]hen they received questions about a very obscure passage, they answered only through exemples from the divine authority, because something that is obscure in one book is expressed clearer in another book.”

    Latin text (My latin text has been taken from an edition made by Mynors, R.A.B, Oxford, 1963, but I found it in the PL too, but with a small difference in word order. I have given the reference from the PL because of it’s accessibility): “[D]e locis obscurissimis inquisitos exemplis tantum auctoritatis divinae solvisse propositas quaestiones, quoniam in alio libro clarius positum est, quod alibi dictum constat obscurius.” PL 70:1107

    Blessings in Christ,
    Sebastian


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    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
  2. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Likely the quote was intended for those doing serious exegesis, but its principle was the most important taught to me as a young believer.
     
  3. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    To be sure, there are multitudes of patristic writers whose testimony affirms that principle. Here is the translation I have of that citation...

    Cassiodorus (485-585):
    Happy indeed is the mind that has stored such a mysterious treasure in the depths of memory, with God’s help; but much happier the mind that knows the ways of understanding from its energetic investigation. As a result, such a mind vigorously expels human thoughts and is occupied to its salvation with divine utterances. I recall that I have seen many men with powerful memories who, asked about the most obscure passages, have solved the questions put to them by examples drawn only from divine authority, for a matter stated obscurely in one place is set down more clearly in another book. An example of this is the Apostle Paul who to a large extent in the letter written to the Hebrews elucidates the writings of the Old Testament by their fulfillment in the new times. James W. Halporn, Cassiodorus, Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning On the Soul, Translated Texts for Historians, Vol. 42 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004), Book 1, Preface, §2, p. 106.
     
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  4. SebastianClinciuJJ

    SebastianClinciuJJ Puritan Board Freshman

    If you have a list of more testimonies that affirm that principle, I’ll be happy to see a post in the future.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Sebastian


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  5. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    My complete list is probably too long to post here, but I will list a few for demonstration...

    Irenaeus (130 - c. 200): For by the fact that they thus endeavour to explain ambiguous passages of Scripture (ambiguous, however, not as if referring to another god, but as regards the dispensations of [the true] God), they have constructed another god, weaving, as I said before, ropes of sand, and affixing a more important to a less important question. For no question can be solved by means of another which itself awaits solution; nor, in the opinion of those possessed of sense, can an ambiguity be explained by means of another ambiguity, or enigmas by means of another greater enigma, but things of such character receive their solution from those which are manifest, and consistent and clear. ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 2:10:1.

    Irenaeus (c. 130-200): (Scripture to be interpreted by Scripture) If, therefore, according to the rule which I have stated, we leave some questions in the hands of God, we shall both preserve our faith uninjured, and shall continue without danger; and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us, praising in hymns that God who created all things. If, for instance, any one asks, “What was God doing before He made the world? ”we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event. The answer therefore to that question remains with God, and it is not proper for us to aim at bringing forward foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions [in reply to it]; so, as by one’s imagining that he has discovered the origin of matter, he should in reality set aside God Himself who made all things. ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, 2:28:3.

    Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): Scripture interpreted by the whole
    Chapter XX.—The Scriptures Relied on by Praxeas to Support His Heresy But Few. They are Mentioned by Tertullian.
    They would have the entire revelation of both Testaments yield to these three passages, whereas the only proper course is to understand the few statements in the light of the many. But in their contention they only act on the principle of all heretics. For, inasmuch as only a few testimonies are to be found (making for them) in the general mass, they pertinaciously set off the few against the many, and assume the later against the earlier. The rule, however, which has been from the beginning established for every case, gives its prescription against the later assumptions, as indeed it also does against the fewer. ANF: Vol. III, Against Praxeas, Chapter 20.

    Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): Well, if it occurs occasionally in certain portions of it, you will say, then why not in that phrase, where the resurrection might be spiritually understood? There are several reasons why not. First, what must be the meaning of so many important passages of Holy Scripture, which so obviously attest the resurrection of the body, as to admit not even the appearance of a figurative signification? And, indeed, (since some passages are more obscure than others), it cannot but be right — as we have shown above — that uncertain statements should be determined by certain ones, and obscure ones by such as are clear and plain; else there is fear that, in the conflict of certainties and uncertainties, of explicitness and obscurity, faith may be shattered, truth endangered, and the Divine Being Himself be branded as inconstant. ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 21.

    Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-367): The worldly man cannot receive the faith of the Apostle, nor can any language but that of the Apostle explain his meaning. God raised Christ from the dead; Christ in Whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. But He quickened us also together with Him, forgiving us our sins, blotting out the bond of the law of sin, which through the ordinances made aforetime was against us, taking it out of the way, and fixing it to His cross, stripping Himself of His flesh by the law of death, holding up the powers to shew, and triumphing over them in Himself. NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IX, §10.

    Basil of Caesarea (AD. 329-379): What seems to be said in an ambiguous and veiled way in certain passages of inspired Scripture is made plain by the obvious meaning of other passages. W. K. L. Clarke, The Ascetic Works of Saint Basil, Translations of Christian Literature Series I, Greek Texts (London: S.P.C.K., 1925), The Shorter Rules, Answer #267 (CCLXVII), p. 329.
    Greek text: Τὰ ἀμφίβολα καὶ ἐπικεκαλυμμένως εἰρῆσθαι δοκοῦντα ἔν τισι τόποις τῆς θεοπνεύστου Γραφῆς ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν ἄλλοις τόποις ὁμολογουμέων σαφηνίζεται. In Regulas Brevius Tractatas, Interrogatio CCLXVII, PG 31:1264.

    Basil of Caesarea (Ad 329-379): You could find many passages of this sort in the writings of the evangelists and the Apostle. Now, then, if a command be given and the manner of carrying it out is not added, let us obey the Lord, who says: ‘Search the Scriptures.’ Let us follow the example of the Apostles who questioned the Lord Himself as to the interpretation of His words, and learn the true and salutary course from His words in another place. Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, Ascetical Works, On Baptism, Book 2, §3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), p. 399.
    Greek text: Καὶ πολλὰ τοιαῦτα εὕροις ἂν παρά τε τοῖς εὐαγγελισταῖς καὶ τῷ ἀποστόλῳ. Ἐὰν δὲ ἡ μὲν ἐντολὴ δοθῆ, πῶς δὲ γένηται, μὴ ἐπενεχθῆ, ἀνασχώμεθα τοῦ Κυρίου λέγοντος· Ἐρευνᾶτε τὰς Γραφὰς, καὶ μιμησώμεθα τοὺς ἀποστόλους αὐτὸν τὸν Κύριον ἐπερωτήσαντας τὴν ἑρμηνείαν τῶν παρʼ αὐτοῦ εἰρημένων, καὶ τῶν παρʼ αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν ἐν ἑτέρῳ τόπῳ εἰρημένων μανθάνωμεν τὸ ἀληθὲς καὶ σωτήριον· De Baptismo, Liber II, §3, PG 31:1589.

    Ambrose (c. 339-97): In most places Paul so explains his meaning by his own words, that he who discourses on them can find nothing to add of his own; and if he wishes to say anything, must rather perform the office of a grammarian than a discourser. See William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd edition, 3 Volumes (London: John Henry Jackson, publisher, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 262, Cf. also Chemnitz, Vol. 1, p. 167, and Whitaker, pp. 398, 492, who all render plerisque as “most.” In plerisque ita se ipse suis exponat sermonibus, ut is qui tractat, nihil inveniat quod adjiciat suum; ac si velit aliquid dicere, grammatici magis quam disputatoris fungatur munere. Epistola XXXVII.1, PL 16:1084. The translation found in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26, Saint Ambrose: Letters 54. Ambrose to Simplicianus (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1954), p. 286, has mistranslated this word plerisque to read “in some instances” rather than the correct translation of “most places.”

    Chrysostom (349-407): Verse 11. “For we which live are also delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in us in our mortal flesh.” For every where when he has said any thing obscure, he interprets himself again. So he has done here also, giving a clear interpretation of this which I have cited. ‘For therefore, “we are delivered,”’ he says, ‘in other words, we bear about His dying that the power of His life may be made manifest, who permitteth not mortal flesh, though undergoing so great sufferings, to be overcome by the snowstorm of these calamities.’ And it may be taken too in another way. How? As he says in another place, “If we die with him, we shall also live with Him.” (2 Timothy 2:11.) ‘For as we endure His dying now, and choose whilst living to die for His sake: so also will he choose, when we are dead, to beget us then unto life. For if we from life come into death, He also will from death lead us by the hand into life.’ NPNF1: Vol. XII, Homilies on Second Corinthians, Homily 9.

    Chrysostom (349-407): Anyhow, in case by wanting to make a display of these people’s stupidity we, too, find ourselves induced to utter unseemly remarks, let’s have done with their folly and turn aside from such idiocy; let us follow the direction of Sacred Scripture in the interpretation it gives of itself, provided we don’t get completely absorbed with the concreteness of the words, but realize that our limitations are the reason for the concreteness of the language. Human senses, you see, would never be able to grasp what is said if they had not the benefit of such great considerateness. Fathers of the Church, Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, 13.8 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 172.

    Chrysostom (349-407): You see, despite the use of such precision by Sacred Scripture, some people have not questioned the glib words of arrogant commentators and farfetched philosophy, even to the extent of denying Holy Writ and saying the garden was not on earth, giving contrary views on many other passages, taking a direction opposed to a literal understanding of the text, and thinking that what is said on the question of things on earth has to do with things in heaven. And, if blessed Moses had not used such simplicity of expression and considerateness, the Holy Spirit directing his tongue, where would we not have come to grief? Sacred Scripture, though, whenever it wants to teach us something like this, gives its own interpretation, and doesn’t let the listener go astray. . . . So, I beg you, block your ears against all distractions of that kind, and let us follow the norm of Sacred Scripture. Fathers of the Church, Vol. 74, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, 13.13 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 175.

    Chrysostom (349-407), Commenting on v. 4 of Psalm 45: These words are a particular indication of the inspired author’s longing, seeing what has already been achieved and the world’s being led towards truth. Hence he employs an exhortatory style in his manner of expression. It is customary with inferiors, remember, when moved with ardor for their betters, to employ these expressions. In the cause of truth, gentleness and righteousness. He uses the qualification of truth. Do you see how Scripture interprets itself, showing the victory to be intellectual and spiritual? How, that is, the one made mention of weapons, sword and bows, here makes mention of gentleness? Robert Charles Hill, trans., St John Chrysostom: Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, Psalm 45 (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), p. 268.

    Chrysostom (349-407): There is something else we can learn here. What sort of thing is it? It is when it is necessary to allegorize Scripture. We ourselves are not the lords over the rules of interpretation, but must pursue Scripture’s understanding of itself, and in that way make use of the allegorical method. What I mean is this. The Scripture has just now spoken of a vineyard, wall, and wine-vat. The reader is not permitted to become lord of the passage and apply the words to whatever events or people he chooses. The Scripture interprets itself with the words, “And the house of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord Sabaoth.” To give another example, Ezekiel describes a large, great-winged eagle which enters Lebanon and takes off the top of a cedar. The interpretation of the allegory does not lie in the whim of the readers, but Ezekiel himself speaks, and tells first what the eagle is and then what the cedar is. To take another example from Isaiah himself, when he raises a mighty river against Judah, he does not leave it to the imagination of the reader to apply it to whatever person he chooses, but he names the king whom he has referred to as a river. This is everywhere a rule in Scripture: when it wants to allegorize, it tells the interpretation of the allegory, so that the passage will not be interpreted superficially or be met by the undisciplined desire of those who enjoy allegorization to wander about and be carried in every direction. Why are you surprised that the prophets should observe this rule? Even the author of Proverbs does this. For he said, “Let your loving doe and graceful filly accompany you, and let your spring of water be for you alone.” Then he interprets these terms to refer to one’s free and lawful wife; he rejects the grasp of the prostitute and other woman. Duane A. Garrett, An Analysis of the Hermeneutics of John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Isaiah 1-8 with an English Translation, Isaiah Chapter 5 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), pp. 110-111.

    Chrysostom (349-407): Commenting on Isaiah 8:6-7: Do you see how flawlessly the passage shines before us? For Scripture everywhere gives the interpretation of its metaphors, just as it has done here. Having spoken of a river, it did not stick to the metaphor, but told us what it means by river: “The king of Assyria, and all his glory.” Duane A. Garrett, An Analysis of the Hermeneutics of John Chrysostom’s Commentary on Isaiah 1-8 with an English Translation, Isaiah Chapter 8 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992), pp. 161.

    Jerome (347-420): A: This passage to the ignorant, and to those who are unaccustomed to meditate on Holy Scripture, and who neither know nor use it, does appear at first sight to favor your opinion. But when you look into it, the difficulty soon disappears. And when you compare passages of Scripture with others, that the Holy Spirit may not seem to contradict Himself with changing place and time, according to what is written, “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy water spouts,” the truth will show itself, that is, that Christ did give a possible command when He said: “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and yet that the Apostles were not perfect. NPNF2: Vol. VI, St. Jerome Against the Pelagians, Book I, §14.

    Jerome (347-420): Some may say: ‘You are forcing the Scripture, that is not what it means.’ Let Holy Writ be its own interpreter . . . Fathers of the Church, Vol. 48, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 1, On the Psalms, Homily 6 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), p. 45.

    Jerome (347-420): . . . let us call upon the Lord, probe the depths of His sacred writings, and be guided in our interpretation by other testimonies from Holy Writ. Whatever we cannot fathom in the deep recesses of the Old Testament, we shall penetrate and explain from the depth of the New Testament in the roar of God’s cataracts—His prophets and apostles. Fathers of the Church, Vol. 57, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 2, Homily 92 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1966), p. 246.

    Augustine (354-430): Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere. NPNF1: Vol. II, On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 6, §8.

    Augustine (354-430): What those who fear God and have a docile piety are looking for in all these books is the will of God. The first step in this laborious search, as I have said, is to know these books, and even if not yet so as to understand them, all the same by reading them to commit them to memory, or at least not to be totally unfamiliar with them. Next, those things that are put clearly in them, whether precepts about how to live or rules about what to believe, are to be studied with the utmost care and diligence; the greater your intellectual capacity, the more of these you will find. The fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that touches upon faith, and good morals, that is to say hope, charity, which we dealt with in the previous book.
    Only then, however, after acquiring some familiarity with the actual style of the divine scriptures, should one proceed to try to open and unravel their obscurities, in such a way that instances from the plainer passages are used to cast light on the more obscure utterances, and the testimony of some undoubted judgments is used to remove uncertainties from those that are more doubtful. In this matter what is of the greatest value is a good memory; if this is wanting, these instructions cannot be of any great assistance. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., WSA, Part 1, Vol. 11, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., De Doctrina Christiana, Book II, Chapter 9, §14. (New York: New City Press, 1996), p. 135.

    Augustine (354-430): To enumerate all the passages in the Hebrew prophets referring to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, would exceed the limits of a volume, not to speak of the brief replies of which this treatise consists. The whole contents of these Scriptures are either directly or indirectly about Christ. Often the reference is allegorical or enigmatical, perhaps in a verbal allusion, or in a historical narrative, requiring diligence in the student, and rewarding him with the pleasure of discovery. Other passages, again, are plain; for, without the help of what is clear, we could not understand what is obscure. And even the figurative passages, when brought together, will be found so harmonious in their testimony to Christ as to put to shame the obtuseness of the sceptic. NPNF1: Vol. IV, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book XII, §7.
     
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